Sharing the aloha spirit through hula in Silverdale

Jade Perkins, 15, practices hula using uli uli — feather gourds — last week with other members of the Micronesian/Polynesian Halau in Silverdale Nov. 17.  - Kristin Okinaka/staff photo
Jade Perkins, 15, practices hula using uli uli — feather gourds — last week with other members of the Micronesian/Polynesian Halau in Silverdale Nov. 17.
— image credit: Kristin Okinaka/staff photo

Cindy Holland, of Silverdale, had been on several trips to Hawaii so she was familiar with hula dancing but she never thought she would be the one dancing.

As a piano and violin teacher, she decided she needed something more active in contrast to her sedentary job.

She found hula.

And, she’s found that the welcoming and warm attitude of others in her halau — hula school — is uplifting. The dancing itself can also make them feel a little closer to the tropical islands.

“It takes us away from the grey nine months of winter,” Holland, 51, said.

The Micronesian/Polynseian Halau is a Silverdale hula group that Holland has been a part of for about a year. The instructor, Che Keeling, has been teaching hula for more than 30 years. Although there are other halaus that practice for hula competitions, Keeling’s school is about expressing their love for hula and sharing it with others. They are practicing for several holiday performances including next month in Seattle at a retirement home and at Navy Exchange on Naval Base Kitsap Bangor. Her group ranges in age from 6 to 63 years and their commonality is that they have a love for the dance and each other.

Practicing out of Keeling’s garage at her home, they all greet each other with a hug as they arrive. Throughout an entire practice, they are smiling with the occasional burst of laughter — usually someone laughing at herself for making a mistake.

“Whenever the girls are happy, I am happy,” said Keeling, 60.

Keeling, originally from Guam, has been living in Silverdale for about 20 years. She first learned how to hula in Guam from her kumu, teacher, who was from Hawaii. Keeling said she enjoys seeing each student’s personality come out through hula dancing.

Hula involves the entire body from the feet to the hands. Holland said for her, the hardest part of hula when she first started was getting her hands and feet to work together.

“I’d never thought I would be the one dancing,” said Holland adding that unlike some women who did ballet when they were little, she didn’t even have that as a platform. But, it hasn’t mattered — anyone that wants to hula, can hula.

Each word in a song has the same hand motion to express it in hula dancing. The dance is telling a story, said Keeling. She added that there is a story for everything and that some portray ancient times in Hawaii while others could be as simple as telling the story of a single flower.

Keeling choreographs her group’s dances and aside from dancing to Hawaiian music or to the beats of Tahitian drumming, they dance to contemporary songs such as Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” and “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys. For some dances, the group uses implements, such as bamboo sticks, poi balls or feather gourds called uli uli.

While Holland discovered Keeling’s halau through a quick internet search, Marisa Nielsen started because her mom, who is from Hawaii, thought it would be something Marisa might have fun participating in.

Marisa, now 14, started when she was in 3rd grade.

“I just kind of showed up and got hooked on it,” Marisa said. “It lets me let go of everything like school and grades.”

Julie Rivera, 56, has been dancing for about 10 years.

She originally signed her teenage daughter up for classes but after one class, her daughter wasn’t interested. Rivera didn’t want her money to go to waste since she paid for one month of sessions so she decided to take it up for the rest of the month — and continued.

“I really like to dance hula,” said Rivera. “The movement, the music, once you start dancing, it’s relaxing.”

Aside from the calmness that can come along with hula, Rivera said she likes the family-feel of the halau.

“There’s a togetherness. They are like one of your family [members],” she said.

Keeling added that hula can help people become graceful and is a good way to meet new people. And mostly, it’s about having fun.

“We share our love,” Keeling said. “We just have fun.”

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